Will libraries disappear?

In my current English class, we are studying not only how our literacy is affected by technologies but also how our current culture processes new information: is it through the “old” printed text or the “new” forms of multimedia? (Visit link for info on Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space)

There are, of course, multiple answers to this question. Many of us still buy and read hardback and paperback books (from the library, from the bookstore), while many others solely rely on the internet, digital books, or other forms of media to obtain information. There are also some who exist in the in-between, reading both printed text and accessible information from the web, podcasts, videos, etc. I imagine that in today’s American culture, most people fit in the “in-between” because we have lived with (and depended upon) our new technologies so much that we are now inseparable from them (think of the last time that you didn’t see a baby-boomer with their own smart phones).

While I could ramble on about Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” and how we are all cyborgs in a sense, I want to touch on the question of libraries and digital libraries, and their relevance in our current society. Libraries, as we all may imagine them, store, catalog, and collect books to provide readers with a place to obtain information. On the other hand, fully digital libraries do not store, catalog, or collect physical books, but they provide the same services that libraries do (albeit without the physicality of the building and the books). There are also libraries that provide some forms of other medias, such as digital books on computers, alongside their physical copies. With this information in mind, do you think that the physical library will eventually disappear?

According to Jay David Bolter, libraries are not going anywhere “in the near future” partly because they have evolved with our changing climate. Libraries are becoming “hybrids” by providing both printed texts and access to other media, through the use of the internet and computers (Writing Space, 93). This sort of thing may worry some, knowing that libraries have to “keep up with the times” in order to stay relevant; however, the change in the library format has happened so seamlessly, some people may not have even noticed. As a student in my late 20s, I remember when my elementary library was just that: a space with books on shelves. When I was around 10 or so, my elementary obtained donations to improve the library, its system, and how students were tested on the books they read. After the reconstruction, the library now not only had more books, more shelves, and a neat reading space with tables, but also computers. They weren’t quite yet as advanced as the computers in schools today (ours did not have internet access), but it was an important change to our library and one that just seemed inevitable.

Still, if this information bothers you, just go ahead and visit this link. You may be surprised to find out that there are more libraries in the United States than there are File:Starbucks in WashingtonDC.jpgMcDonald’s and Starbucks. This fact actually doesn’t surprise me because I am from a small town: I remember when my town finally got a McDonald’s (and a Walmart). You can also check out this link, which shows that the majority of Americans still favor printed books over e-books or digital books.

So American libraries are evolving with the times, yet we still have millions visiting libraries and reading printed texts in the midst of all this change. Why do I think this is happening? I think nostalgia and tradition are very important, and very influential factors. Physical libraries not only provide a place for any member of society to obtain information but also they hold a certain cultural value for us. They are physical reminders of what we as a human race have accomplished and what we think is important for our society to know. Any literate person can walk into a library and read a book; it is inclusive not only in the sense that the information is available to all, but also in the sense that the books themselves hold theories, opinions, and ideas from all different types of authors, from different walks of life, and from different countries and times. This, while it may not seem like a particularly strong argument, is a solid factor for why I do not think that libraries will disappear anytime soon. A person could argue that digital libraries are also inclusive, and for the most part they are, but part of the cultural value of physical libraries is in its physical existence. This physicality makes us feel more connected to the material than what we can glean from an internet page, or a digital book.

It may be ironic to note that while there are more libraries than Starbucks in the United States, Starbucks has also become the “it” place to read or study for school, either by printed text or by computers. This just further provides evidence that human beings enjoy some type of physical connection (and why students will willingly go to a busy place to concentrate). Students could just read or study their school work in the comfort of their home (in bed) and on their tablet, e-reader, or computer; however, there is the physical connection missing.

What do you think about libraries, digital libraries, and the future of these institutions? Do you agree or disagree with my views?




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